Stop the garlic mustard invasion

Most people are familiar with buckthorn, a non-native invasive plant that has taken over many acres in Bloomington and beyond. Another invasive plant to be wary of is garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata. This invader arrived with European settlers in the 1800s, likely for food and medicinal purposes. 

Garlic mustard is an early season biennial herb that thrives in many conditions, including woodlands, floodplains and yards. It spreads by seeds which are disbursed by ripe pods that can propel seeds several feet away, and by water, animals and people. 

Because of its aggressive nature and prolific seeding, and lack of parasites and diseases, garlic mustard alters ecosystems and chokes out beneficial native plants, which pollinators and other wildlife need to survive. It exudes chemicals into the soil that suppress native plants. 

Garlic mustard as food

Deer and other wild animals do not eat this plant. Garlic mustard is edible for people, and is used in pesto and other recipes. When the leaves are crushed it emits a strong garlic smell.

Garlic mustard often moves in after buckthorn removal or other disturbances, so monitoring for this plant and stopping its spread is critical. The good news is that garlic mustard is more easily managed than buckthorn, especially if caught early, which is important, as one plant can become hundreds in just a few years. 

How to remove garlic mustard

In the spring, adult plants pull easily, especially when the soil is moist. Be sure to pull the entire tap root, or it can sprout again. Plants that are pulled and left on the ground may still flower and set seed. Flowering plants or plants with seed pods should be removed from the site and properly disposed of to prevent seeding. 

Since it is a biennial preventing it from seeding is critical. Seeds may remain viable in the soil for up to 10 years. In addition to hand pulling, cutting, herbicide, spot burning and prescribed fires are used to manage garlic mustard. Many animals, pollinators, and native plants such as wild geranium, Jack-in-the-pulpit, columbine and wild ginger will be grateful for your efforts.

A restricted noxious weed

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture classifies garlic mustard as a restricted noxious weed. In Minnesota, it is illegal to intentionally grow or sell garlic mustard, and landowners are strongly encouraged to manage it on their properties in order to prevent its spread.

Hold the garlic mustard

Garlic mustard has a food-like name but is really a noxious weed and a threat well-worth stopping. The non-native plant thrives in woodlands, floodplains, yards and other areas. Heart-shaped, tooth-edge leaves alternate on vertical stems of plants up to four feet high. Small, four-petal flowers produce seeds that quickly grow into new plants. Because of its aggressive nature and prolific seeding, garlic mustard chokes out beneficial native plants and harms ecosystems. To remove, pull up the entire root and carefully dispose of all waste including any seeds.